Hats off to NAMA for a wonderful OneShow in Chicago in April. The turnout was impressive and, as always, I love to get a visit in with all the friends I've made over the years in this industry. There sure seems to be quite a resurgence of single-cup bean brewers, and that was a pleasing and refreshing thing to see, as I feel these brewers provide the best means of delivering a great cup of coffee, when trying to do so one cup at a time. Coffee pods (the real paper ones) also continue to see steady growth, and I am equally grateful to see this trend taking shape.
There have been a lot of things happening of late, but one of the most interesting, and a move I personally find ironic, is Amazon's announcement of a new line of private-label products. Actually, I find it ironic for two reasons. First, they have always been seen as a conduit to buying products from a cross-section of manufacturers -- a mall landlord of sorts. It is unheard of for mall operators to open up their own stores. Second, there has been, in the past 20 years or so, a fairly robust move back toward branded products from no-brand or private-label products. As a private-label roaster, believe me, we've noticed!
I recently heard a commentator remark that this is the first time private-label has really been successful with consumers, and Amazon wishes to take advantage of the trend. I had to chuckle, but discounted the fact that the person making this comment didn't look to be more than 35 years old. He must not have heard of the huge no-name trend in the 1970s that was enormously popular and seemed to put private label on the map, nor the trend toward higher-quality product in private label that was the mantra during the '80s and '90s, culminating in a great share of the overall market housed within private-label products.
There has never been a better time to promote or redefine your private-label program. You could promote the "local small business" angle, take the high-ground position with such coffees as organics, or hold up new offerings associated with such causes as the Rainforest Alliance, bird friendly or the story of Café Femenino, among others. All of these are strong trends right now in retail and therefore make for an easier sell in the business-to-business sector.
I once met with an outside marketing firm to see if we could work together and use their services. The owner was a cerebral type and the first question he asked me was, "why are you in the coffee business?" This was his way of drilling down to our core values and beliefs, and hence the most honest and therefore easiest to market approach to selling our products. It is a great question to ask yourself. The answer will help point you in the right direction, if you're looking to revive your private-label program.
When you get behind a product and vision, selling becomes easier; and it is more likely that similarly minded local companies will be willing to buy from you. I'm not an operator, but I can think of at least 10 local women's organizations that would love to hear about Femenino coffees and how they are helping women in coffee-growing nations.
My father, Stuart Daw, was very much a promoter of private label versus national brands. He famously debated the head of the largest national brand during a coffee convention. His feeling was that operators could really only secure their futures through their own product lines. If you only deliver name brands and fill the product requests of your clients, you are a jobber and middleman of sorts -- and subsequently risk being cut out of the equation at the whimsy of the very brands you promote. At the end of the day, a national brand is really just a private label that grew and grew to the point where it became known enough, and had enough momentum to become national in its scope and reach.
With today's technology, you have the opportunity to do the very same, and the time is ripe to take a few moments to consider your private label, and where it might take you next.
As always, may your cup be full, and the brew, exquisite.
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KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries. A 30-year veteran of OCS, water delivery and vending operations, he has concentrated on coffee roasting for the past two decades.